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Bush To Skip N.H. Debate

Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican presidential front-runner, is waiting until next year to begin debating his rivals.

Bush said he will skip an Oct. 28 candidate forum that CNN and WMUR-TV have scheduled at Dartmouth College. Democratic candidates Al Gore and Bill Bradley are expected at a forum Oct. 27.

Southern Methodist University is honoring Bush's wife, Laura, on Oct. 28 and Bush said: "I hope the organizers understand that while the debate may be important, it's not nearly as important as me being with my wife on that day."

WMUR spokeswoman Julie Campasano said Tuesday that Bush had never accepted an invitation to the Dartmouth event. The forum will still be held, she said, and candidates will take questions from the audience, but not debate each other.

She said all the other Republican candidates have accepted the invitation except Pat Buchanan, who is considering leaving the GOP and has not replied.

Two other planned joint appearances were torpedoed after Bush declined to participate and the rest of the field saw no point in debating without the front-runner. One was in conjunction with the Ames, Iowa, straw poll in August and another was originally planned for this weekend at the Florida Republican convention.

The Texas governor has agreed to debate in Iowa in January in a forum sponsored by the Des Moines Register, said Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes.

"We intend to debate next year when people are beginning to pay attention to the presidential race," she said.

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